Basic Photoshop for Digital Scrapbooking

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My crafts weren’t always done on the computer. My mother trained me in the old school ways, and I was happy with cutting and pasting things into physical works of art. She still does it! Mom makes some pretty creative greeting cards with her over abundance of crafting gear. My transition into the digital arts happened when I had children.

Toddlers don’t care that your craft papers, adhesives, and photographs are all neatly organized on the table. They want to play with your scissors, then they cry when you take them away. I no longer had disposable income for cute embellishments that I didn’t have time to use. Scrapbooking had suddenly become a real pain in the butt! So when I started getting proficient in Photoshop and Illustrator, I started laying out my pictures on the computer. No mess to clean up, easy to put away, easy to start up again, and required no extra storage for supplies. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me!

There’s a huge selection of digital clipart, patterns, and embellishments out there! Before I started making my own, I’d buy digital scrapbook kits from various sites. After purchasing the kits, they’d send you a download link and you were good to go. The prices are really reasonable compared to traditional scrapping materials, especially since you can use the art again and again. And if you mess up while you’re working, just undo it!

For this post, I’m going to scrap a page to show you how it’s done in Photoshop. Well…. I’m going to show you a finished scrapbook page and then go over the various tools used to create the final look.  I use the current Photoshop Creative Cloud version, which is available for a free trial or purchase here. ( ) So if you’re curious about how this works or if you’re a Photoshop novice, stick around for some useful tips.

1. Creating a new document

When creating a new document a box will pop up to ask you how big you want the page and what resolution you want. I use the 12 inch X 12 inch scrapbook paper size. The resolution depends on what the final product will be. If you just plan on posting something online, a low or medium resolution (72 or 150 pixels/inch) will be fine. If you plan on getting this printed, you will need a high resolution for clear, non-pixelly prints. For a page this large I use 300 pixels/inch.

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Bright Blog Image 32. Getting images on to the document

The easiest way to get your photos or clipart on to the page is to just drag it on there with your mouse. The other way is to go to the top menu and click on “file”, then “place embedded.” A box will pop up … find the image you want and press enter to place. I like to drag all my photos on first, arrange them, and then add patterns and embellishments afterwards. It also helps to label the layers for easy reference.

You will notice there is also a “place linked” option. This will get your image into Photoshop, but it will be linked to the location of the original image and will only appear as long as that image stays in it original location. For example: You have a photograph on your desktop that you “place linked” onto your Photoshop file. You save your work and delete the photo from your desktop. The next time you open the Photoshop file, your image will not be there because you broke the link by deleting the photo.

3. Resizing Images

Chances are you’ll also need to resize your photos. To make an image bigger or smaller click on the move tool, then click on the image. A faint white box will appear around the image. Hold click on one of the corner boxes and drag to make it smaller or larger. TO KEEP THE IMAGE IN SCALE hold down the “shift” key as you drag. This will prevent the image from warping.

4. Brightening Images up

If you’re an amateur photographer like myself, then chances are your pictures could use a little boost. I don’t usually use the flash on my camera, so my photos are usually a little dark. Brightening them up is pretty easy if you use the levels tool. (Full disclosure: the image I’m using is stock photography that I altered for teaching purposes.)

First: Select the photo you want to edit.

Second:  Go to the top menu bar and click on “image”… then “adjustments”….then “levels.”

Third: The levels menu will pop up. Look for the little eyedroppers on the right side and click on the one on the far right (the one with white in the dropper.)

Fourth: Look at the photo and find the spot where the purest white area SHOULD be. I look for white walls, white shirts, or clouds. Drag the eyedropper to that white spot and click. This will adjust the white balance in your picture. If you complete this step and don’t like the result, simply undo it (ctrl+Z) and try another spot.

You’ll also notice the big wave graph that looks like an earthquake seismograph. There are 3 little arrows on the bottom of that graph colored dark grey, light grey, and white. These arrows control the dark tones, mid tones, and light tones of your photo. Moving the dark grey arrow toward the center of the graph will make the dark areas darker, and moving the white arrow towards the center will make the light areas lighter. You can play around with the settings until your image looks well balanced.

Fifth: The brightness/contrast tool is another way to get nicer images. To find it, go to the top menu bar and click on “image”… then “adjustments”….then “brightness/contrast.” The controls for this tool are pretty straightforward. I usually use this tool after the levels tool to get that crisp, almost ethereal look.

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5. Clipping (mask) your photos

I want to put a polaroid frame over one of my pictures, but there’s some excess sticking out from the sides. The best way to take care of this is to use a clipping mask. It’s better to use a clipping mask instead of an eraser so that you can change it if you need to. The process is much easier than it sounds.

First, place your photo on the canvas.

Second, create the shape that you want to fit that photo into. It can be ANY shape you want, simple or complicated. (I just used a rectangle in my tutorial image for simplicity’s sake.)

Third, put the shape layer directly under the photo layer. Layer order should be photo on top, shape right under it.

Fourth, right-click on the photo layer to pull up the layer menu and select “clipping mask”.

If you need to move the photo around, you can just click on the photo layer to move or resize it. Same with the shape…. Just click on the shape layer to move or resize it. And if you want to unclip the photo, right-click on the photo layer and select “release clipping mask.”

Bright Blog Image 46. Adding a drop shadow

Drop shadows are the easiest way to create some dimension for your image. The shadows keep things from looking flat, and looking more like a traditional scrapbook page. I’m going to add a drop shadow to the frame as an example.

First, double-click on the layer that needs a drop shadow to bring up the layer style box. If you don’t see “drop shadow” listed in the left column, click on the tiny “fx” in the bottom left corner. That will bring up the list of styles you can use.

Make sure “drop box” is selected and highlighted to bring up the drop shadow options in the center of the box. You can play around with the various settings, but you’ll most likely be using the opacity, distance, and size settings the most. The opacity will affect how dark the shadow will be. The distance will affect how far away from the object the shadow is. And the size setting will affect how sharp or fuzzy the shadow is.

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7. Use the stroke style to create simple photo borders.

I get my scrapbook pages printed into family yearbooks. After a certain point some printers start charging by the page, so I am used to creating scrapbook pages with lots of pictures on them to save space and money. When you have six or more photos on a page, putting a fancy frame on each one is going to make your page look cluttered. I use the stroke effect to create a simple border around my photos to make them stand out, but not so much that they overwhelm the page. The stroke is basically a line around the border of your object. In this instance it creates an easy frame for a photo, but it’s also great for turning cute clipart into stickers.

Double-click on the layer to pull up the layer styles menu. Use the size slider to control how big you want the frame, and use the position drop down menu to indicate where you want the stroke to be. “Inside” puts the line inside the border of your image, “outside” puts it on the outside of your image (I like to use this one!), and “center” will put the line halfway inside and halfway outside the border.

The fill type drop-down menu gives you 3 options: color, gradient, and pattern. This is where you can have a little fun with the border. I usually go for the classic white look, but you can make a pink ombre border using the gradient tool, or give the border some texture with the pattern tool. Do whatever looks best to you!

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8. Inner shadows

As you may have guessed, inner shadows are very similar to drop shadows. Inner shadows are found inside the object and make it look like it’s receding into the background. I used this effect for the background and border of my page to make it appear as if the center was sunken in like a shadowbox.

Simply double-click on the layer you need and select “inner shadow” from the styles menu. The settings that pop up are exactly the same as the drop shadow settings….just play around with the settings until you get the effect you’re looking for.

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9. Taking advantage of the Shape Tool

By this point I have both images, the background and half of the embellishments on the page. I’m now moving on to the heart decoration in the top left corner. Photoshop has a good selection of shapes ready to use, and I use them quite a bit to save time. To find the more complicated shapes, click and hold on the shape icon and select the “custom shape tool.” Next, go to the top of your screen and find the shape drop down list and select the one you like. In this example, I’ll be using the heart.

You can choose the fill color and stroke color (if you want a stroke, that is) on the top bar, as well. Then simply click and drag on your canvas to create the shape. Shapes are great because they’re not rasterized and can be resized over and over again without losing resolution. If you need to change the color for any reason, just click on the thumbnail on its layer and choose another color.

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10. Bevel and Emboss

Now that my heart is drawn, I can give it dimension with the bevel and emboss layer style. Double-click on the heart layer and select “bevel & emboss” from the menu. You’ll notice there are 2 subcategories attached to it – contour and texture. I’m just going to go over the main bevel menu, but you can certainly play around with those settings later if you want to.

The first setting listed is style. I’m going to use the inner bevel. The visual guide I created also shows you what outer bevel and pillow emboss look like.

Next, choose “smooth” for the technique. This will give the heart a nice rounded look. Use the sliders for depth, size, and soften until you get the effect you are looking for.

The lower half of the menu addresses the shading of the heart. You’ll notice there are a lot of different settings for gloss contour, but I usually just use the default setting. You can change the color and opacity of the highlighted areas and the shadow areas, but I’d recommend leaving the highlight mode on “screen” and the shadow mode on “multiply.”

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11. Outer Glow

So I have my heart shape with some soft beveling for dimension… now I need to add a little glow around it. I decided to add the glow in order to make the heart stand out and naturally draw the eye in that direction. Add “outer glow” to your styles menu and take a quick look at the settings available. By this point you should be getting used to the styles! Play around with the settings until you get the glow you’re looking for.

All I had to do after this step was to add my word art and shiny dangle clip art to create the header for my page. And ta-da! A quick and simple scrapbook page!

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If you like the clipart and patterned paper I used for this tutorial, please head on over to my Etsy shop where it’s available for purchase. Thanks for visiting!